In order to stand out from the crowd, you need to have a strong personal brand. Today, it’s easier to build your brand than ever before. However, it’s also easier to ruin it.
One of the many things I appreciate about the web is the opportunity to connect with a really interesting and diverse group of people. Typically, we stay in the realm of cyber-networking, but occasionally we transcend the limits of the computer to connect in person.
A little while back, I had the chance to talk with one of my favorite bloggers, a finance executive who writes meaty articles on leadership, governance, risk management, staffing, finance – the nuts and bolts of what it takes to be in business. He isn’t afraid to challenge conventional wisdom, to ask the tough questions, to point out the nakedness of the emperor, and he isn’t afraid to create content that requires readers to exercise their scroll-down finger.
Could Have Knocked Me Over With A Feather
Eventually, as I always do, I turned our conversation to my favorite question, “What is your biggest challenge?” His answer, to use my son’s vernacular, left me gob-smacked. “My biggest challenge is convincing CEOs that, as a Certified General Accountant, I am just as good as a Chartered Accountant.” To understand my reaction, I need to provide some background details that perhaps verge into TMI territory.
When I was pregnant with our youngest child, my husband went through an archetypal mid-career crisis. After deciding he was unhappy with his job and not seeing a lot of opportunity for growth, he decided he needed a change.
Personally, I love change. Thrive on it, in fact. So, I was ecstatic, and encouraged him to figure out what his passion is, and go for it. Over the next few weeks, while he considered his options, I was already mentally making plans to sell our house and backpack with our kids around Europe. It came as a bit of an anticlimax, therefore, when he finally announced his life-changing plan, “I’m going to become an accountant.”
For the next seven years, DH balanced a full-time career with 30 hours a week of brutal and sweat-intensive study in order to earn his Certified General Accounting accreditation. All of which is to say, I have some inkling about what it takes to become a CGA, and have a tremendous amount of respect for the designation.
As a career consultant and resume writer, I have worked with 4,000+ clients over the past five years, including more than 200 accountants of various stripes. This gives me a unique perspective on how CAs and CGAs differ. The typical CA I have met has been an accountant, through and through. Accounting is all they’ve done since graduating university. It is a rare CA who has ever run a company other than an accounting practice, or even a department that wasn’t strictly accounting and administration.
CGAs, on the other hand, typically have five years or more of professional experience under their belt before they even start the program, and typically earn their accreditation while working full time. This means a newly accredited CGA probably has more than 15 years of business experience, both accounting-specific (a prerequisite to earn their accreditation), and more broadly based in operations, strategic planning, supply chain management, production management, and human resources.
Words That Can Ruin Your Personal Brand
So now, back to my Finance Executive. Unfortunately, he allowed himself to get dragged into a suckers game. I’m not talking about the territorial shoving contest that competing accounting bodies are currently engaged in for the right to be called Public Accountants in Canada. I’m talking about a no-win branding strategy that starts with the phrase, “just as good as.”
Any good marketing expert will tell you there is no credible way to end the statement “just as good as” except with the phrase “at a fraction of the cost.” Knowing what I do about typical career profile of CAs versus CGAs, I could see half a dozen stories my Finance Executive could use to distinguish his career brand, without ever having to resort to “just as good as.”
He could recount his superb track record for bringing companies back from the brink of bankruptcy, not only through good accounting practices, although they were definitely part of the picture, but through good financial and business practices. He could talk about cash-flow optimization and cost management strategies that make good business sense, and how he used them to drive successful turnarounds.
He could also discuss the company that called on his services too late to be saved, and what he can teach other companies from this experience. He could describe his understanding of the language of money – not merely from an accounting perspective, although he has that in spades – but from a business perspective: what it takes to attract investors, build confidence among creditors, safeguard shareholder interests. He could emphasize his approach to ensuring that a company doesn’t just look profitable, but is profitable, and stays profitable, both in the short term and for the long haul.
In professional branding, as in product branding, its all about differentiation – finding a way to make yourself stand out from the crowd. I’m a firm believer in the power of a good story for creating a distinctive brand. What do you have to bring to the table that is unique, one-of-a-kind? What stories can you tell to back it up? How can you make those stories relevant and interesting to your target employer, so that they recognize you as the perfect solution for their challenges?
If you can do this in your resume, your cover letter, your interview, your networking meetings, your blogs, your LinkedIn profile, your web presence – you’ve got it made. If you can’t, you may be left in the unwinnable position of trying to justify why you are “just as good as” the other guy.
This post was originally published at an earlier date.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock